Mis-Communicator of the Week: Director General Azharuddin Abdul Rahman
11th March 2014
Speculation in times of crisis is inevitable. The media are racing to get ahead of the story, break news first and find an angle their competitors haven’t yet thought of. Unless facts are clearly communicated and this speculation ignored then it can appear as if the organisation at the centre of the crisis has lost control.
I’ve seen first-hand the level of crises preparedness major international airlines undertake to ensure, if the unthinkable happens, they remain in control. I’ve also seen how this often isn’t the case for governments and their agencies.
The disappearance of a Malaysian Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing has attracted considerable international media interest. This is understandable as it is a terrible story with an awful human element to it. In addition, as of this moment, the disappearance is unexplained allowing the media to play the speculation game. This has in turn put the Malaysian authorities in the spotlight and under pressure.
This unwanted interest was initially handled well with the Malaysian transport minister stating that they “have nothing to hide” and being followed up by regular news briefings from the Department of Civil Aviation. Unfortunately the content of these briefings have been substandard and have fed the speculation rather than dampening it down.
These briefings have been led by the director general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman who has proven to be very quotable. His approach to transparency is laudable but his willingness to answer every question he is thrown allows multiple news stories to emerge every time he speaks. His approach, as for any spokesman in a crisis, should be to deal with the facts and nothing else, instead Azharuddin has made these errors among others:
- He said the mystery passengers travelling on stolen passports 'look like (Italian footballer) Mario Balotelli’ and were ‘black’;
- He would not explain why crews were searching in the Strait of Malaca, saying rather cryptically, "There are some things that I can tell you and some things that I can’t”;
- He said his department were not discarding any possibility, including mid-air explosion or disintegration or even a hijacking attempt.
Transparency is an essential part to good crisis communications but Azharuddin has been exposed to intense media pressure and he seems ill prepared. His lack of discipline and willingness to speculate is making the Malaysian authorities look incompetent and is why he is my Mis-Communicator of the Week.
Communicator of the Week is written by Ed Staite.